February 2018, September 2017, February 2016, March 2015. These are the dates I found out close friends and fellow medical students had committed suicide. To put this into perspective, I am a fourth-year medical student. That means that for every year of medical school, I have lost someone to mental health conditions. My friends were some of the brightest minds in Australia. My friends were committed to giving back to their communities. My friends are gone.
This is an epidemic.
In recent years, medical students have been increasingly encouraged by staff and medical practitioners to lead healthy, balanced lifestyles. Great idea. But how?
My typical day involves:
- Waking up at 5am
- Heading into the hospital by 6:30am (to look up patients before ward rounds)
- Trying to fit in lunch sometime during the day
- Leaving around 5-6pm
- Dinner when I get home, study until midnight
So how can we deign to live a balanced lifestyle? How can we restart hobbies that we used to enjoy? How can we take a moment to go to the beach and enjoy a warm day? How?!
Medicine is a demanding career, as it should be given we have lives in our hands. For most of us medical students, this is something we’ve been working for our whole lives. A goal we would do anything to achieve – study late, miss that social function and neglect ourselves. So how does this affect us, Australian medical students? Here are some of the key findings from a report by BeyondBlue1:
- Medical students reported higher rates of general distress and specific mental health diagnoses in comparison to the Australian population
- Female students had higher levels of psychological distress and reported more specific mental health diagnoses than male students
- The number of attempted suicides and suicidal ideation was higher than rates reported by the general population
I want to make one thing clear – this is not okay.
Medicine is a career, one that may be our dream to accomplish but it is just a career. We are more than our career prospects. We are people who have interests, who have opinions and who matter. We deserve to feel happy. We deserve to feel healthy. We deserve more than this.
The positive – we can fix this.
Where do we start?
- Every medical student should see a GP on a regular basis
- We should be able to pursue our interests outside of medicine
- We need to develop healthy coping strategies for the challenges we face
- We need a safe working environment – free from discrimination and bullying
All the changes listed above, as simple as they sound, require time, energy and people who can drive change. However, I strongly believe that the biggest change we can make with this epidemic is to CHANGE the stigma around mental conditions. No one should feel that by seeking help that they are failure. That by seeking help, their future career prospects will be impact. That by seeking help, they aren’t worthy of being doctors.
We need to fix this.
I do not want to attend another funeral.
Please, if you need help – reach out.
Make an appointment with your GP.
See a counsellor.
Contact the AMA Peer Support service (Vic/Tas, 1300 853 338) or the Doctor’s Health Advisory service (National, details via dhas.org.au)
Or Lifeline on 13 11 14
You deserve to be happy.
1. BeyondBlue. National mental health survey of doctors and medical students. Victoria, Australia: Beyond Blue Limited, 2013.